My Extreme Multivitamin Case Study

Written on February 3, 2010. Written by .

My experience with multivitamin supplements dates back to the days when I ran track in high school. Before I started taking supplements, my performance fluctuated wildly–on some days I would have no endurance and on other days I would feel great. At one point my coach recommended that I try a multivitamin supplement. After I started taking them, my endurance seemed to become more stable, though not infallible. The effect seemed clear enough to me, so I continued taking a daily multivitamin every day for the next several years.

My belief in the effect of the vitamins was reinforced by the fact that whenever I forgot to take them for a few days, my endurance dropped significantly. Taking them didn’t guarantee good performance, but not taking them seemed to guarantee bad performance. Of course everyone was quick to cite the placebo effect, but I can assure you that I was pushing the physical limits of my muscles-it definitely wasn’t because of laziness.

Fast-forward to one year ago. After reading five books about nutrition and designing a new diet based on what I learned, I decided that I didn’t need to take multivitamin supplements anymore. The attitude of many nutrition experts was that vitamin supplements only help when there is a deficiency, which shouldn’t happen if you have a reasonably healthy diet. Some books I read even claimed that there was no solid evidence that multivitamin supplements have any benefits for healthy individuals, while warning of the possibility that excess fat-soluble vitamins might cause major problems. It seemed the safest bet was to just stick with healthy foods and forget about all the supplements.

Four days ago, I started taking One-A-Day Men’s Health Formula multivitamins because I was concerned about vitamin D, considering that I don’t spend much time in direct sunlight and that is how vitamin D is usually produced. I didn’t expect to see any effects. It made sense that I benefited from vitamins in high school when my diet was terrible, but now my diet is full of a wide variety of powerful nutrient sources, so it didn’t seem likely that I had any deficiencies.

So when I got in the pool to do my typical swimming workout yesterday, I didn’t think about the vitamins at all. In the past few months I did about a dozen swimming workouts-not too many because it’s an outdoor pool and it’s winter. Each time I swam as far as I could at the beginning, then rested and did a few more laps with a rest in between each lap. Since this is an Olympic size pool, 50 meters in length, each lap is 100 meters. Every time I tried, I was exhausted and on the verge of drowning after 2 laps. Then after resting for a couple minutes I would do three more laps with a break in between each for a total of 5 laps. By this time I would be too tired to continue. But yesterday, after I hit the 2 lap mark I didn’t feel very tired so I thought maybe it could be the first time I ever hit the 3 lap barrier. And I did, but I still didn’t feel too bad, so I went for a fourth. When I finished the fourth lap and still wasn’t tired I started to wonder what was going on. I felt like I wasn’t any more tired than at the end of the second lap. I was breathing heavy, but there was hardly any fatigue. That’s when I remembered that I had recently started taking vitamins. It was the only explanation. I was really curious to see how much of an effect they would have, so I kept going. By the time I got tired, I had broken my previous swimming endurance record of 2 laps by a factor of 10! I swam 20 laps for a total distance of 2 kilometers during 55 minutes of continuous swimming. After this, I’m totally convinced that there is something missing in my seemingly diverse and healthy diet.

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